Note: The following considerations are the summary of a personal conversation I had with a close friend who is a leading population geneticist from the Unites States and thus a reliable source of information, as she is personally and corporately involved in finding a solution to the coronavirus crisis, together with tens of thousands of specialists in the whole world. I believe they are worth taking in consideration, even if, maybe, some of this advice may sound to you overly cautious. They come not only from an expert, but also from a mother with a toddler. That should help you set things in perspective.
I give people some basic advice as they ask me. In brief, we can’t control many variables, but a few we can, to the best of our ability. At first it seems like a time-consuming burden, and a constant reminder of the stressful time we live in, but it very quickly becomes the new norm, and a routine. Plus, we now have the extra time to do so.
Here are a few basic rules.
- Remember, the virus lives in aerosol form up to 3 hours, on cardboard at least for 1 hr and up to 24 hrs, while on plastic for 3 days. The virus lasts in the freezer for up to 2 years! On the Princess ship RNA traces lived up to 17 days, but the complexity of comparing conditions from the ship to our environment (humidity and other parameters) is too complex to discuss here.
- When we come from the outside (from shopping or anywhere where we might have been exposed to droplets and fomites — objects or materials which are likely to carry infection, we take all our clothes off and place them into a bin that’s at the door. We place immediately everything in the washer on high temperature and take a shower right away. We dress modestly these times, so we can wash clothes with high temperature.
- No hugging, no kissing with anybody, until you took the shower. Lots of soap. This virus is held together by a lipid layer. This is very important to know, as it is good news. Soap (any soap) disintegrates the lipid layer (fat) and therefore inactivates the virus. There are viruses that have a protein layer, and that would have been catastrophic and significantly harder to destroy. Not to scare you, but you’re hearing this from the horse’s mouth.
- No shoes in the house. We have a carton box at the door, and we put the shoes we use outside in the box at the garage door. Spay them right away with a bottle of disinfectant. Again, modesty fits best. We use our sports shoes.
- We cook all the bread in the house. If you buy bread outside and it’s in a plastic bag, make sure please that you empty the bag with the bread in a plastic bowl and dispense of that bag right away while you’re using gloves. We have a clean table on which we place all the items that we wiped off after we took them out of the bags and put them on that desk.
- We do not place the bags from the store on the counter, not on the floor, just in the garage. Same for food delivery. Drivers leave it in the garage (we open the garage door, and have a sign on the door that asks them to do so – trust me they are thankful to not see one more potential infectant), and leave a nice tip on a table right by the edge of the garage. And a Thank You note. If no garage, the floor will do and then wipe the floor immediately.
- Do not keep the plastic bags under the sink. Take them immediately out. Discard of them or disinfect them and place them in a box that you will not touch for weeks. Trick with saving them is that if you add contaminated bags in a box, you keep the infection there. Is this something one really wants to have in the garage, or worse, under the sink? A box full of constantly brought in contaminants? Best to thrown away. This is not the time to use your nice and fancy, fabric bags.
- Bread is one of the most infectious vectors right now as people touch those bags, or droplets land on them.
- Same goes for fruit. There is a link I attached bellow (link 1) where this doctor washes them in the sink with a bit of soap water and rinses them very well. There is of course the danger of using too much soap and not rinsing properly. This is therefore a controversial technique. We do soak them for at least 30 seconds and wash them in a sink full of lightly soaped water and then rinse them very well. We also do not bring any vegetables or fruits in the fridge until 3 days have passed from having been brought from the store.
- If you get a package, ideally do not open it for one day. The 24 hr rule for cardboard. Once you open it, again, use your gloves and if it’s plastic inside throw that away before you get access to your item, which you should still sanitize with a wipe.
- And finally, every night we wipe all the counters and the floors. At the beginning it seemed insane but then you get the hang of it. It becomes routine.
- Not to scare you, but please take this advice from a population geneticist and an epidemiologist who is reading all the research papers. And I’m communicating with top specialists in the world when I share this.
On the point about how long this will last, it’s not impossible to estimate how long this will take. Models are now shown on a daily basis, albeit they change as data keeps populating them. It’s safe to assume, and this is referencing top epidemiologists, that until we have either a vaccine or a cure, we will be in constant risk of being contaminated.
Aerosols live in the air for 3 hours, so if somebody coughed in a store and you’re behind that person you’re still at risk of being contaminated because those aerosolized particles can land on your face/shoulders. Please see link with video showing how micro droplets last in the air, even after one left the place, for 20 minutes.
In the summer it’s possible the cases will go down but then a second wave will most likely be coming in the winter. As things will start to progress into a different kind of normal, with certain regulations on social distancing, the new norm will be more work from home, and 2 meters apart from others on the street, and so forth.
Our hope is that treatments will come before the second wave hits this winter. Most likely no vaccination until September 2021
But from a strictly epidemiological point of view, if the population can reach a point of ‘herd immunity’ of 60 to 70%, the population has then become ‘immune to the pandemic’. That means that 60-70% of the population, at least, got infected and survived. so that those 30% that would potentially still have the risk of being infected with the virus would not be enough to create a new pandemic. At least in theory.
The number of deaths depends on how sharp or flat the curve of new cases is, because it will depend on how reliable the healthcare system will be to deal with the number of acute and severe cases. A paradox happens in the way the pandemic could take its course. Ideally the 60 to 70% immunity of the population should happen very fast; but if you ‘let that happen’, the healthcare system is overwhelmed with the number of cases they have to deal with. This is why, we have to flatten the curve, and not prolong the pain, to allow the healthcare system to take care of all the people that may be at high risk of complications. Also, by flattening the curve, even though we prolong the time for the herd immunity to occur, we gain time in learning how to better manage the disease and even hope for going up with treatments.
And to your question, when will that happen, one cannot really assess that in a generalized manner, because different countries or even regions (here we have stricter rules in California vs other states for example) approach this differently. So, there will be various inflection points and with continuous potential for cross-contamination.
All this being said, this is NOTHING, compared to what our dear health care providers go through. They are the real heroes. They are our angels. We have nurses in the US that do not go home at their families after their shift, to avoid infecting their kids.
I believe the world will be very different one from here on. There will be the before the pandemic and after the pandemic way of life. And the curves for social distancing and fear of infection from friends and neighbours, and family included, will last for a while. At least till the vaccination is available. And after, if people wonder about the next pandemic.
Some useful links
How to shop safely
Good visualization of microdroplet spread, especially after min 1:19 (click on the black screen or link). When you sneeze or cough micro-droplets exiting your mouth or nose will linger in a room for over 20 minutes. When you speak, you will also be distributing micro-droplets around you.